• Handling Breakups

A frayed friendship between partners spills over to their business

December 30, 2014 | By | 4 Replies Continue Reading
A stormy relationship between partners threatens their business.

QUESTION

Hi,

I got to know someone I considered my best friend about five years ago. I know I won’t ever be her very best friend because that space belongs to her spouse, which is perfectly fine.

After knowing each other for a short time, we went into a business partnership. So we tend to spend a lot of time together because of work. In fact, we have spent less time or no time together just hanging out.

However, the work relationship has taken a toll on her because she feels I’m too emotionally attached to her, and it gives her stress. So I tried to back off. I don’t message her outside of work, I don’t see her outside of work, and I don’t call her to share “friend stuff” to make sure her weekends are always free since she spends time with family.

But the arguments continue happening every week, especially when she is stressed. She’ll suddenly explode without warning and start digging up how I have behaved historically and tell me that I’m too emotionally attached to her despite the fact that I have backed off physically.

Honestly, throughout the years as business partners, I have mellowed myself a lot to fit her character. Not because I feel obliged, but because a lot of the things she said, I felt were valid. And I wanted to change myself to be a better person. But as you know, every relationship takes two to clap. I feel I’m always in the wrong, nothing is ever enough, and I’m causing all the unhappiness.

Because I know her so well, I’ve always taken her temper with grace as I know I’m the only outlet she has; she doesn’t have to pretend around me. But she is always the unhappy one when we are together.

I suspect she couldn’t bear to initiate a break up because of my investment (not just money, but rather effort and heart) in the business and in her life. So I’m considering, perhaps I should be the bad guy.

I have not given up on the friendship. I love her as a friend. I just don’t think it is healthy that I give her negative vibes all the time as she can easily calm herself down with other people. I began to think I’m a negative energy to her. And at the end, I still want the best for her.

Should I initiate a break-up?

Signed, Donna

ANSWER

Hi Donna,

You started out as friends and now see yourselves primarily as business partners. But as you describe it, even your working relationship sounds pretty stormy right now. It has to be very tough when a partner “explodes” and makes personal attacks at you rather than monitoring herself and communicating more rationally.

You mention that she has set some strict boundaries for your personal relationship in the past and that you have tried to respect them—but also admit to giving off “negative vibes.” Is she really dredging things up from the past or could she be reacting that way because you still feel (and are acting) resentful?

The way your letter reads, it seems like you have (or think you have) a far greater investment than does your partner. I’m not clear if it was only you (rather than the two of you) who built the business. At this point, I think your main focus needs to be on determining whether or not you and your partner can iron out the constant strife that undermines the partnership.

Before you act precipitously and become the “bad guy,” it might be wise to speak to a business professional, perhaps an accountant or attorney, who could clarify the economic ramifications of a breakup. If that isn’t feasible or something you want, I think that you need to rebuild your working relationship and defer any thoughts of friendship right now. A neutral third party, such as a business coach or mental health professional may be able to help you structure your work and renegotiate your relationship so it is less volatile.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: HANDLING BREAKUPS

Comments (4)

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  1. Amy F says:

    Have you tried having an open conversation using healthy communication with her, when neither of you is irritated, to see if you can work out your concerns. “X, I’d like to make sure that you and I in sync and that we’re clear on our expectations for each other. I don’t enjoy when we bicker, and I doubt you do either. Can we talk about how to make our communication easier?”
    Then when you’re sitting down over coffee, hopefully relaxed and open ask her, “Am I doing anything that you’d like to talk to me about?” If you give her the opportunity to speak first, chances are she’ll feel less defensive. Try to hear her with an open heart without interruption, even if you disagree. When she’s done rephrase what she says, to make sure you know what she means and to show her that you are receptive. For example, “So what you’re saying is that when I ask you about your daughter, you feel like I’m mixing business and friendship?” Then she has an opportunity to let you know if you’re hearing correctly or clarify. Once you’re on the same wavelength ask her what would feel best to her (that you not ask, that you wait for her to tell you etc.). Then thank her for letting you know. “I didn’t realize that bothered you. I assumed showing interest was showing I cared. In the future I’ll XYZ. Please let me know if anything else troubles you can we can work it out quickly. I don’t want unspoken feelings to get in the way of our partnership.”
    Then you have a chance to talk. Be specific so she knows what you’re talking about. “I feel frustrated when you snap at me. I don’t want to argue. Since we talked about your feelings that I’m too attached to you I’ve ABC. Have you noticed a change.” Hopefully she acknowledges your changes. If she hasn’t ask for an example so that you know her mindset. Then, “It would be helpful, if moving forward, we could focus on what’s bothering you about today, rather than what happened before I (stopped asking personal questions or whatever).”
    Having conversations with people who don’t have good communication skills is difficult, but if you can guide the conversation in a nonthreatening manner, you’ll at least have a better idea whether something can be salvaged from your partnership or you need to think about splitting the business. Mind reading and trying to think what she means when she does X or Y is usually not helpful, even if it feels less scary than having a direct conversation.
    Good luck.

  2. mouse says:

    And, well, this may surprise you, but have you considered taking your relationship to a couples counselor? You are a couple, a partnership as valid as a marriage. Even if you two do decide to split, maybe with assistance of a professional you can make the decision together and possibly salvage or repair what can be saved.

    If you consider this, them please seek out an Imago therapist in your area. I have one here in Chicago I have used with enormous success with my marriage, and I can see how it would benefit ANY meaningful relationship. This is the one kind of couples counseling that does not make one person the bad guy, instead teaches a practice of healthy communication and is respectful of every person involved. No one is sacrificed, no one is humiliated, no one is invalidated.

    • Amy F says:

      That’s great idea mouse, I was also thinking of couple’s counseling. One of my grad school professors was training in Imago, way back when it first came out in the early 90s.

  3. Lily says:

    Your friend sounds like she’s irritated by you for some reason. She’s also pushing the boundaries with you, and I’m not sure it looks well. You’ve tried repairing your faults, but what has she done about hers? She’s not perfect either, and needs to reevaluate herself also.

    Before things go for the worse, do what Irene suggested. Discreetly see a lawyer to either buy her out of the businesses or divide it. I’m thinking she may be out doing the same thing.

    I wish you luck.

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